Lincoln County residents may now access all Register of Deeds books online, the office announced this week.
The project has been ongoing for several years and has involved the scanning of all deed-book images, now available on the Lincoln County website (under the Register of Deeds’ public-inquiry system).
Register of Deeds Danny Hester said there were between 130 and 140 books that needed to be scanned into the system prior to his coming into office. Roughly 100 of those were bound books.
“These were the most difficult because they needed to be taken apart, scanned and sent to an outside company, to be rebound in new binders,” he added.
Instead, Hester decided to call upon a company to come into his office, scan the books in-house and thereby eliminate the need to take them apart. This allowed them to remain in their original binders, which proved to be a more cost-efficient option.
“Normally when a book is sent out to be restored and rebound, the cost is anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the size and condition of the book,” he said. “Our method of choice cost only $550 per book, with the project being paid out of the Register of Deeds Automation Fund. This fund is not financed by the county but, instead, is funded from a portion of the fees collected by the office to be used for the preservation of the documents.”
Hester’s staff also played an important role in carrying out the project. Judy Hoell, for instance, was responsible for making sure the scanned images of the documents were presentable for online viewing.
“Since joining the Register of Deeds office, she has played an instrumental part in this project,” Hester said. “She has a sharp eye, ensuring the images available on the Internet are the best they can be. She shares my expectations, and I trust her conscientious approach.”
He cautioned that, while easily available, some of the images will still need to be enhanced and rescanned, particularly the old plat books that were loaded in earlier years.
The office leases its copiers, printers and scanners for no more than five years in order to stay updated with the latest technology to ensure high-quality digital images, he said.
“These old records are dear to me because they represent the history of Lincoln County,” he said. “I wanted to see this project completed from the first day I became caretaker of these records, but obstacles (had) prevented this dream from being accomplished.”
One of these obstacles included the Register of Deeds office being temporarily relocated to the old hospital building on Gamble Drive while its permanent facility, on East Court Square in downtown Lincolnton, underwent renovations, beginning at the end of 2011. A new heating-and-cooling system was among the needed repairs, as the poor condition of the old one was causing some of the books to swell from the humidity.
Hester commended grounds, maintenance and IT personnel for allowing for a smooth transition during the move to and from their current location.
Once back, the Register of Deeds was then requested by the county to complete an overhaul of its recording-software system.
“We had to act very quickly and, after narrowing down our options to three companies, I had each of them do a demonstration of their system to my staff, along with members of the IT Department,” he said.
A Chapel Hill-based company was eventually selected to carry out the project, which also included a new document-search system for online.
“I feel really proud to have been involved with this project,” Hester said. ” … Our records are now preserved not only in paper, but also in electronic form.”